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Afghans Negotiating Long-Term U.S. Presence, Karzai Says

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Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government is negotiating with the U.S. to establish an “enduring partnership” that may entail a long-term presence of U.S. forces in the South Asian country.

Karzai, speaking in an interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” to be aired today, said the accord “may bring about the presence of some U.S. troops in Afghanistan for the duration of the agreement.” It would also include provisions for the U.S. to equip and train Afghan forces, he said.

The U.S. plans to withdraw most of its 98,000 combat soldiers in Afghanistan by 2014 as it hands over operational control in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda to Afghan forces. It is pulling out the last of its remaining 5,500 troops from Iraq this month, even as it will leave behind in Baghdad the largest U.S. embassy in the world, with 15,000 employees and 5,000 private security guards.

A State Department official in Washington said the U.S. is negotiating the terms of a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan. President Obama hasn’t made any decisions about the U.S. presence there after 2014 and has repeatedly said the U.S. doesn’t seek permanent military bases, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 10-year occupation by U.S.-led international coalition forces has brought “political stability to Afghanistan,” Karzai said, according to a transcript of the interview. Still, he said, the U.S.-led occupation and the Afghan government have failed to “provide the Afghan people with their individual personal security.”

The occupation began with a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to oust the Taliban, which had harbored the al-Qaeda terrorist network, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Night Raids

Karzai said any agreement for U.S. forces to remain in the country must put an end to so-called “night raids” on Afghan homes where terror suspects are allegedly hiding.

“What we are asking for, in very specific and clear terms, is that no foreign forces should enter Afghan homes,” Karzai said.

The State Department official reiterated that the U.S. goals were to turn search, arrest and detention operations over to Afghan forces. Any post-2014 U.S. presence will only be with the invitation of the Afghan government, the official said.

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has privately recommended delaying new American troop withdrawals planned by the Obama administration until 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 6.

Karzai said his government would welcome the establishment of a Taliban political office to foster peace negotiations with the government. He said the office must be “authorized” and represent the “Taliban movement as we see it.”

The assassination by a suicide bomber of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and chairman of Afghanistan’s government-appointed committee seeking peace negotiations with the Taliban movement, “brought us in a shock to the recognition that we were actually talking to nobody,” said Karzai. “Those who came in the name of the peace process were assassins, were killers, were terrorists rather than negotiators,” he said.

Including Pakistan

Any peace negotiation with the Taliban must include Pakistan, he said. “We all know that the Taliban have their places there. They operate from there,” Karzai said. “A meaningful peace process cannot go well or end in satisfactory results without Pakistan’s participation and help.”

He called the Dec. 6 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Kabul a “terrible terrorist attack, which appears again to be traced back to Pakistan.” The attack by a suicide bomber killed 56 people and wounded almost 150, Ghulam Sakhi Kargar, spokesman for public health ministry, said Dec. 7.

A Pakistani extremist group known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack. “If it is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, then perhaps it’s the responsibility of Pakistan, and of all of us together, to go and stop this,” said Karzai.

U.S. and Afghan forces made progress in the past year in eroding the “overall mobility and activity of the Taliban,” Karzai said. “But I’ll have to wait a bit longer to confirm that we have reversed the trend.”

Karzai said he won’t run for a third term after his presidency expires in 2014. “It is against the Afghan constitution,” he said.

Germany’s Bild-Zeitung, citing a classified report by Germany’s BND intelligence agency, reported Dec. 5 that Karzai planned to change the country’s constitution to allow him to run for another term.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Willis in Washington at bwillis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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